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mark evans

As the U.S. economy tumbled into recession in 2008, Marcus Sheridan saw a dark cloud hovering over the swimming pool company he co-owned.

With pools costing $40,000 to $70,000 apiece, Mr. Sheridan realized the home equity loans customers used to finance purchases were going to shrink as real estate values fell.

As he searched for ways to keep Warsaw, Va.-based River Pools and Spas alive, he stumbled upon the idea of using content to drive traffic to the company's website. He began to blog and make videos as a way to make River Pools more easily found when people were searching online for information about pools.

Much to his surprise, the tactic worked. Not only did the website attract more traffic and help generate higher sales, it became the most popular swimming pool site in the United States.

In the process, Mr. Sheridan began to learn and master the in-the-trenches techniques to become successful at content marketing, an approach by which companies leverage digital content – blog posts, videos, podcasts, whitepapers, photographs – to attract traffic from people looking for information and insight.

With Mr. Sheridan becoming one of the leading content marketing consultants, I invited him to speak earlier this week in Toronto to the meshmarketing conference, an event that I co-organize.

A big part of his appeal is that he is not your typical speaker. Animated, engaging, down to earth and very funny, Mr. Sheridan provides a lot of valuable insight speaking from first-hand experience. The techniques, tips and tricks he espouses come from what he has successfully implemented at his own business.

Perhaps the biggest piece of advice he offered about content marketing is that it's not rocket science. The key to success, he said, starts with a commitment to consistently create content that offers information and insight.

It could be a blog post, video, whitepaper, case study, report or photograph. What's important is having a focus on what kind of content you want to create, and then sticking to it.

Mr. Sheridan said the big challenge for many companies is that they don't believe they have enough ideas to create content on a regular basis. Mr. Sheridan believes, however, that if everyone in a company is involved in the content marketing strategic process, the ideas will flow.

A great way to get started, he suggests, is by having everyone in a company get together, and then start listing all the questions asked by existing and potential customers.

After this exercise is completed, he said a company should have 100 ideas to create content.

Mr. Sheridan also believes companies shouldn't be afraid of transparency, particularly when it comes to talking about price for their products and services.

Far too many times, he said, companies avoid answering the "How much does it cost?" question because they think it will turn off consumers or provide rivals with competitive intelligence.

He describes this as "fear marketing."

The trick, he said, is that you don't have to answer the question specifically but should address it by providing a range. When people call about specific prices, it provides a company with the opportunity to get more details to provide a more accurate cost.

Mr. Sheridan's success using content to attract more traffic to River Pools and Spas prompted him to start a blog in 2009 called The Sales Lion to write about what he had learned about content marketing and how companies could embrace it to jump-start their sales and marketing activities.

As the blog became more popular, Mr. Sheridan started to get requests from conferences and companies to speak about content marketing, which has gained more momentum as an increasing number of businesses look for new ways to enhance their digital activities.

In the process, Mr. Sheridan evolved from being the co-owner of a swimming pool company into one of the leading content marketing speakers and consultants.

His presentations resonate because his recommendations are doable and can be acted on. Just as important, they are easy to understand and offer practical things that companies can do to improve their marketing.

Those who came out of Mr. Sheridan's presentation last week were excited and motivated because they had heard someone who entertained them but, at the same time, was motivating and encouraging.

At many conferences, speakers are informative and interesting but it is not often you come across someone like Mr. Sheridan who talks the talk and walks the walk.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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